|Sy Keeler - Onslaught - Interview Exclusive|
|Written by Mark Taylor|
|Wednesday, 12 January 2011 05:00|
Back at the start of December yours truly had literally just arrived back from his chores at the Hard Rock Hell festival when Uber Rock HQ called and suggested I might want to pop along to a central London location for an exclusive album play back from Bristol Thrash Metal veterans Onslaught.
With the buzz surrounding the band's second full studio album since reforming back in 2004 building to fever pitch, I literally jumped at the chance to not only get a sneaky peak of said album (entitled 'Sounds of Violence') but also have a well overdue chin wag with the band's frontman Sy Keeler.
Sy, great to meet you thanks for talking with Uber Rock tonight, how are you sir?
I'm pretty damn good this evening thanks for asking.
Thanks for inviting us to the playback of your new album 'Sounds Of Violence'.
Well this is why I'm feeling pretty damn good, as this is the first exposure of our album to the press. So who wouldn't be feeling good.
Tell us a bit about the story behind Sounds Of Violence, let's start with who produced it?
The album was mainly written in Swansea, and we were toying with ideas for a few producers, but our manager came up with Jacob Hansen, who is Danish based. And suddenly we're thinking "Oh we're gonna have to travel, couldn't we do it in the UK?" But as Jacob has a great reputation (having worked with Volbeat and Heaven Shall Burn), and works some pretty strange hours. As in nine to five. Five o'clock comes and we all finish. This meant we could use the time to relax and have the evenings to ourselves, eat and talk you know, but when your in the deepest darkest countryside of Denmark there is really much else you can do. But it was really beautiful there, and it was a beautiful summer.
So did working those types of hours suit you guys?
Absolutely because we had a schedule to stick to. We knew the time our flights were booked to be home so everything had to be done within seven days. As it happens we flew in on the Sunday after Bloodstock and I didn't start the vocals until the Wednesday and we still got everything finished in spite of me having to sit twiddling my thumbs for two days. I think it was something like ten tracks in all, eight brand new tracks, plus 'Bomber' for the single, and a couple of bonus tracks for around the world. And I was totally pleased with the end result all done for me in about four days.
So is this a progression from 'Killing Peace' for you guys?
Definitely definitely I think were perhaps still a little naive when we went in to record 'Killing Peace' we were a little bit rushed and were slow ourselves, and with two weeks before we went into the studio we had about two songs that we were still working on so it all felt a bit too rushed. This time we've had three years to refine everything and its all far far better. We've gone a new song writing team with Nige Rockett being the mainstay and Andy Rosser Davies is the new boy how just also happens to be a great songwriter.
You have introduced new members into the line up like Andy Rosser Davies and Jeff Williams. With so many line-ups of the band over the years do you fell like right now is the perfect chemistry for the band?
Yeah...I do, I certainly couldn't see us going any further with another member of the band no. We all get on so well, and that is the main ingredient of course when you're out on the road you have got to get on with the guys in the band. Of course we all have bad days and have a mood on but ultimately we're all grown up enough to either say sorry or let it pass over you know.
Going back to 2008, and perhaps one of the first appearances of this line up at the Damnation Festival in Leeds, that also spawned the 'Live Damnation' album for you guys. What was that festival like?
That was awesome, I mean all festivals are great, but when you play your home country at a festival that is well organised, alright we only had forty minutes you know, the album is forty minutes long because that was the time we had. We just crammed in as much music as we could no talking in between songs just a relentless assault of seven or eight songs. So yeah great festival and I think we produced a great product there.
And obviously you played Bloodstock this year....
Yeah our first British outdoor festival believe it or not, in all these years. And it was really very special for us; to walk out on that stage and see the field as packed as it was, was just phenomenal.
And Bloodstock just seems to be getting bigger and bigger, starting in a very similar way to Wakken.
Yeah that's right but with Bloodstock being about 10,000 capacity it's got a great intimacy you know. You can walk out into the field afterwards and not have huge arenas where it can all pass you by like at Download for example. But we play all sizes of festivals. We played Bang Your Head in Germany and that was around 25,000 people so we probably played to about 10,000 there, but I do love the smaller more intimate shows.
And of course in the UK in March you've been lined up for another festival Hammerfest.
We have indeed, back to good old Prestatyn, yeah we played Hard Rock Hell there in 2009 and what a great venue, this utilising holiday camps in the off season is a great idea, and also great for the metal community in the UK. You know everyones sleeping in and around you and what is great is you end up next to the paying punters; I mean it's a great blast for them and a great blast for us
So is this going to be the first gig in the UK after the release of 'Sounds of Violence'?
We're gonna wait and see what happens, it's the only confirmed show so far, but with the album out at the tail end of January perhaps we'll add some more dates off the back of the great reviews and hopefully great sales you know. But we do have a few ideas pencilled in and ideally we'd want to be part of a package tour as special guests to a bigger band playing Academys or bigger. And who knows if the album kicks off we may even be out headlining the Academys...Who knows?
We played some shows with Testament at the Academys and that was absolutely fantastic, especially in Bristol where I didn't recognise one face in the front row. It was all kids too young to have known about us from the first time around.
Funny you should say that Sy, do you think there's been a big resurgence in Thrash Metal recently?
Definitely, and the younger bands are certainly helping us veterans, I mean Metallica are being called a Thrash Metal band again, when the last album was released I remember seeing an advert that said Thrash Metal and Metallica in it and I had to double take. Since when have they been called Thrash Metal again, this is going to help spread the word about the genre coz people who love Metallica might not relate them to Thrash Metal being as they have been for a long time now a mainstream Heavy Metal band. So it all helps you know.
And you mentioned the newer bands coming through there briefly, what do you think of bands like Gama Bomb and Evile etc?
Oh they are fantastic, they have really helped get Thrash Metal back on the radar of younger fans via Myspace and Facebook etc and it has helped everybody you know. And the younger bands out there right now have certainly given us the kick up the ass we needed to be able to record 'Sounds Of Violence'. I mean we couldn't have done another 'Killing Peace' without it possibly being termed 'pedestrian' when being compared to some of these younger bands. So we have come back saying quite intentionally "That is not going to happen... No one is going to kick our ass".
We've talked already about you possibly touring as support to a larger name, but would you consider touring as a package with some of these younger bands?
Absolutely, but lets see what occurs. Ultimately though it's down to our agent and what he can pull out of the hat you know.
I mentioned also the line up changes within Onslaught, which obviously includes your good self. What has it been like coming back to the band after such a long hiatus?
Well this is actually a bit of a record we're setting here, as this will be my third studio album with Onslaught, and with the live album that makes it four so this is a bit of a record for individual band members. With only Nige and Steve having appeared on two more with 'Power From Hell' and 'In Search Of Sanity'. I think its safe to say that yes we have had a lot of line up changes over the years (laughs). But it's great to be back you know.
When we reformed back around 2005 Jim Hinder who wasn't an original "original" member of the band was in the line up, and at that point we tried to get as many of the guys who had been involved previously back together, but Jim has since left and Alan Jordan the other guitarist from that line up has since left due his commitments needing to be elsewhere, so we got the two new guys in and as I've said previously "This line up is built to last". 'Sounds Of Violence' is the album that proves that we are not just a flash in the pan that reformed just to tread water and we now want to be a part of not only the Thrash Metal scene but also the wider Metal scene.
Having heard 'Sounds Of Violence' here tonight Sy I wouldn't have called it a Thrash Metal album though.
I'm pleased you've said that because I think exactly the same thing, especially since we've started rehearsing these songs for the live shows that will follow. Since we returned from Denmark with an unmasterd copy, I listened to it detached from the rest of the band and I just sat there thinking even at that stage before it was a finished product 'This is absolutely phenomenal'. It's brutal and powerful and people will no doubt see it as a Thrash Metal album first and foremost, but the potential for this album to reach wider horizons is endless.
So you've been rehearsing the newer stuff ready for live performances, what tracks in particular can fans expect to hear?
Well ultimately we're going to be learning the lot of em, but some of my personal favourites are 'Code Black', the title track, 'Godhead' and I love the attitude of 'Hatebox', but I really do love the whole album.
One thing I have noticed about 'Sounds Of Violence' is like you say the album is full of great tracks, and it actually gets better as it goes along, of that makes any sense?
Yeah, to be honest from my point of view (and the guys will hate me for saying this), I think the album kicks off with perhaps the weakest track. Which is good because that track is phenomenal anyway, so once past 'Born For War' you're into the title track and then it really kicks off. And I personally can't think of an album that builds and builds like this since 'Reign In Blood'
And of course I can't really do this interview without mentioning your cover of Motorhead's 'Bomber' which is the first single of the album.
The story behind that track was it all sort of happened a little bit by accident, it was played at a rehearsal or soundcheck somewhere, and someone suggested that perhaps we should consider playing it. I was like "No way, I'm not singing another cover version" plus my thinking was we had enough strong original material why would we need to do another cover version? So I then forgot it about, but the rest of the guys hadn't forgotten about it (laughs). And ultimately we'd known Motorhead guitarist Phil Campbell for many many years, and Jeff our bass player works with Phil's son in a music shop in South Wales so there was a connection there as well. Plus the guest vocalist on the track Tom (Angelripper from Sodom) just happened to be in the studio at the same time as us, and he was really up for it, and in spite of my initial reluctance to do it, I think we've produced a pretty awesome version.
And because its been doing so well in the pre order charts we decided to do something with it and of course Help The Heroes became the obvious choice for us to do something for as the two songs on the single (Sound Of Violence being the other track) are war related, but then we thought "Perhaps this is too insensitive to do this?" but you know what they love it. And we've got the connection with the Onslaught Battalion in Afghanistan, so all second thoughts we're quickly put to bed.
Sy, it's been fantastic talking with you, unfortunately we have to wrap up as we're the last ones here now and we're getting some strange looks. So with the 'Sounds of Violence' making my ears bleed earlier tonight I'm now of to my bed to catch up on some sounds of silence. Thank you.
Thank you very much and don't forget the album is out January 31st in the UK.
Uber Rock will be reviewing 'Sounds of Violence' this coming Friday so if you want to know exactly what I got to hear first back on a chilly December night then remember to check back sharpish.